Ashkenazi – New World Encyclopedia – Info:Main Page – New …

Posted By on April 1, 2014

From New World Encyclopedia

Ashkenazi Jews, also known as Ashkenazic Jews or Ashkenazim, are Jews descended from the medieval Jewish communities of the Rhineland"Ashkenaz" being the Medieval Hebrew name for Germany. They are distinguished from Sephardic Jews, the other main group of European Jewry, who arrived earlier in Europe and lived primarily in Spain.

Many Ashkenazim later migrated, largely eastward, forming communities in Germany, Hungary, Poland, Russia, Eastern Europe, and elsewhere between the tenth and nineteenth centuries. From medieval times until the mid-twentieth century, the lingua franca among Ashkenazi Jews was primarily Yiddish.

The Ashkenazi Jews developed a distinct liturgy and culture, influenced to varying degrees, by interaction with surrounding peoples, predominantly Germans, Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Kashubians, Hungarians, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Letts, Belarusians, and Russians.

Although in the eleventh century they comprised only three percent of the world's Jewish population, Ashkenazi Jews accounted for 92 percent of the world's Jews in 1931, and today make up approximately 80 percent of Jews worldwide. Most Jewish communities with extended histories in Europe are Ashkenazim, with the exception of Sephardic Jews associated with the Mediterranean region. A significant portion of the Jews who migrated from Europe to other continents in the past two centuries are Eastern Ashkenazim, particularly in the United States. Ashkenazi Jews have made major contributions to world culture in terms of science, literature, economics, and the arts.

Ashkenaz is a Medieval Hebrew name for Germany. European Jews came to be called "Ashkenaz" because the main centers of Jewish learning were located in Germany.

The Ashkenazi Jewish population originated in the Middle East. When they arrived in northern France and the Rhineland sometime around 800-1000 C.E., the Ashkenazi Jews brought with them both Rabbinic Judaism and the Babylonian Talmudic culture that underlies it. Yiddish, once spoken by the vast majority of Ashkenazi Jewry, is a Jewish language which developed from the Middle High German vernacular, heavily influenced by Hebrew and Aramaic.

After the forced Jewish exile from Jerusalem in 70 C.E. and the complete Roman takeover of Judea following the Bar Kochba rebellion of 132-135 C.E., Jews continued to be a majority of the population in Palestine for several hundred years. In Palestine and Mesopotamia, where Jewish religious scholarship was centered, the majority of Jews were still engaged in farming. Trade was also a common occupation, facilitated by the easy mobility of traders through the dispersed Jewish communities.

In the late Roman Empire, small numbers of Jews are known to have lived in Cologne and Trier, as well as in what is now France. However, it is unclear whether there is any continuity between these late Roman communities and the distinct Ashkenazi Jewish culture that began to emerge about 500 years later.

In Mesopotamia and in Persian lands free of Roman imperial domination, Jewish life had a long history. Since the conquest of Judea by Nebuchadnezzar II in the early sixth century B.C.E., "Babylonian Jews" had always been the leading diaspora community, rivaling the leadership of Palestine. When conditions for Jews began to deteriorate in the western Roman Empire, many of the religious leaders of Judea and Galilee fled to the east. At the academies of Pumbeditha and Sura near Babylon, Rabbinic Judaism based on talmudic learning began to emerge and assert its authority over Jewish life throughout the diaspora. Rabbinic Judaism also created a religious mandate for literacy, requiring all Jewish males to learn Hebrew and read from the Torah. This emphasis on literacy and learning a second language would eventually be of great benefit to the Jews, allowing them to take on commercial and financial roles within Gentile societies where literacy was often quite low.

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